Category Archives: Meditation
An article by William Broad appeared recently in The New York Times, titled How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body – http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/magazine/how-yoga-can-wreck-your-body.html?pagewanted=all
Firstly I support any clear-eyed look at the practice of Hatha yoga, as any activity that proports to be good for health will tend to oversell the benefits and deny possible harms. This is unfortunately how the market works. Also there continues to be a lack of critical thinking when it comes to practices of Eastern origin. There’s an assumption of unquestionable ancient truth and submission to its supposed superior authority.
The teacher-pupil relationship, at times, can be corrupted by a downward dynamic of “the one who knows” to “the many who don’t”. This limits learning to acquisition which in turn corrals awareness which has a natural open-ended, self-reliant, learning-dynamic inbuilt. It also binds the student to the teacher and to a particular style, further retarding true learning.
That said the article is surprisingly poorly written, especially as the writer is supposed to be a highly awarded journalist. There are several extreme anecdotal examples of supposed harm being done by yoga and very little solid data. Ironically the main Yoga teacher cited in the article teaches very aggressively while at the same time stating that “most people shouldn’t do yoga”. Also there is little attempt to separate minor injury from serious injury. Setting up his poorly differentiated claim that yoga leads to serious injuries the author states-
More troubling reports followed. In 1972 a prominent Oxford neurophysiologist, W. Ritchie Russell, published an article in The British Medical Journal arguing that, while rare, some yoga postures threatened to cause strokes even in relatively young, healthy people.
I checked this “article” to discover a two paragraph letter to the editor of the British Medical Journal. The stroke syndrome quoted by William Broad is also, in that small note by Dr Russell, attributed to the following activities — being in a dentists chair, at a hairdresser, picking fruit, painting a ceiling, presiding over a meeting. Clearly in some rare instances any type of daily neck extension may be dangerous to health. http://www.bmj.com/highwire/filestream/223144/field_highwire_article_pdf/0/685.2.full.pdf
Any arduous exercise regime or activity has the potential to result in injury, is yoga any different? If so where are the comparative data? How many are injured in comparative exercise classes for example.
I do agree with the need for the scientific evaluation of harm in current yoga teaching/practice. The problem here however is that the term yoga covers many and varied styles, with each style interpreted differently by different teachers. There are also fairly aggressive styles that push practitioners away from quiet, slow feedback awareness.
My own experience with yoga — practicing most days in the week since the early ’70s — has shown me that if practiced with clear cognizance to some basic ground rules for beginning, holding and releasing a stretch, yoga is a safe practice. The potential for injury however is ever-present, requiring a “this present moment” watchfulness, independent of length of practice, fitness , etc. Based on this attitude a teacher should be listened to and not listened to — immediate sensitivity is the arbiter of when to listen and when not to heed direction to hold longer or deepen a stretch. Even so, minor muscle strains and soreness do occur from time to time, these can be skillfully folded into the process, stimulating renewed awareness and adaptation.
Slowness, watchfulness, constant feedback reflexivity has long been central to good yoga teaching and practice. Paying attention to the present state of the body despite yesterday’s flexibility, watching for aggressiveness, impatience, tiredness or withdrawal; pausing and sensing are all active protocols for moving into, holding and releasing from postures.
Any sustained physical culturing has similar need for intelligent action and skillful means. Potential for injury increases with the current tendency for large classes, lack of home practice away from class and the sheer popularity of yoga. Short attention span and impatience with the body, frequent patterns of our times, play their part. Seeing a yoga pose in a book and true to our current mentality wanting to do it now or at least in a couple of weeks.
Yoga is an excellent activity in which to gain insight into conditioning and imbalances on all levels, physical, emotional and cognitive, as it deeply encourages symmetry and open-ended feedback awareness. There is no end to depth of exploration, to subtlety of discovery.
The art of learning not to go against, not to try to conquer, but to see the presence of things as a deeply integrated whole, even if painful, unpleasant etc and to work skillfully with them, is the timeless wisdom of yoga.
This timeless wisdom is superbly elucidated in the following link to an article written by Joel Kramer an adept of yoga as a practice for the transformation of conditioning on all levels, titled Yoga As Self-transformation.
Yoga involves far more than either having or developing flexibility. Being able to do complicated postures doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to do yoga. The essence of yoga is not attainments, but how awarely you work with your limits — wherever and whatever they may be. The important thing is not how far you get in any given pose, but how you approach the yogic process, which in turn is directly related to how your mind views yoga.
There are different basic frameworks of mind — what I call “headsets” that people bring to yoga. One involves viewing a posture as an end to be achieved, a goal: how far you get in the posture is what counts. Another one views the posture as a tool to explore and open the body. Instead of using the body to “get” the posture, you use the posture to open the body. Whichever framework you’re in greatly influences how you do each posture.
Approaching postures as goals makes you less sensitive to the messages the body is sending. If your mind is primarily on the goal, the gap between where you are and where you want to be can bring tension and hinder movement. You push too hard and fast instead of allowing your body to open at its own pace. Paradoxically, if you’re oriented toward the process instead of the end results, progress and opening come naturally. Postures can be achieved through struggle, but the struggle itself limits both your immediate opening and how far you ultimately move in yoga.
Valuing “progress” is a deep part of our conditioning. It’s natural to enjoy progress, but problems come when your yoga is attached at its core to results, instead of to the daily process of opening and generating energy. This attachment imposes one of the real limits to your yoga.
Here’s the link to the entire article, it’s well worth reading and will change the way you do yoga or inspire you to start. http://www.joeldiana.com/downloads/writings/YogaAsSelfTransformation.pdf
The discussion and links in this post are not meant to discourage anyone from listening to their healthcare provider or from taking medical drugs where deemed necessary. It does however serve to show how complex the mind/body is, how being informed and how conscientiousness and self-reliance are important no matter what treatment approach is followed
As to the much lauded effect of the best-selling antidepressant drugs turning out to be very little more than the depression alleviating effect of an inert placebo pill see Sharon Begley’s excellent expose from Newsweek
…let me show you the studies on PubMed. It seems I am not alone in having moral qualms about blowing the whistle on antidepressants. That first analysis, in 1998, examined 38 manufacturer-sponsored studies involving just over 3,000 depressed patients. The authors, psychology researchers Irving Kirsch and Guy Sapirstein of the University of Connecticut, saw—as everyone else had—that patients did improve, often substantially, on SSRIs, tricyclics, and even MAO inhibitors, a class of antidepressants that dates from the 1950s. This improvement, demonstrated in scores of clinical trials, is the basis for the ubiquitous claim that antidepressants work. But when Kirsch compared the improvement in patients taking the drugs with the improvement in those taking dummy pills—clinical trials typically compare an experimental drug with a placebo—he saw that the difference was minuscule. Patients on a placebo improved about 75 percent as much as those on drugs. Put another way, three quarters of the benefit from antidepressants seems to be a placebo effect. “We wondered, what’s going on?” recalls Kirsch, who is now at the University of Hull in England. “These are supposed to be wonder drugs and have huge effects.”
The study’s impact? The number of Americans taking antidepressants doubled in a decade, from 13.3 million in 1996 to 27 million in 2005.
For more on this subject see my post here – http://www.wellnessclarity.com/?p=89
See also Harriet Fraad’s article in The Guardian
So-called miracle drugs like Prozac are taken by 11% of the population – and Prozac is only one of the 30 available antidepressants on the market. …
Anti-psychotics drugs alone net the pharmaceutical industry at least $14.6bn dollars a year. Psycho-pharmaceuticals are the most profitable sector of the industry, which makes it one of the most profitable business sectors in the world. Americans are less than 5% of the world’s population, yet they consume 66% of the world’s psychological medications.
Do these psycho pharmaceuticals work to restore mental health? Actually, the evidence is overwhelming that they fail. Antidepressants, the most popular psycho-pharmaceuticals, work no better than placebos. They work 25% of the time and stop working when the user stops taking them. In addition, they may actually harm patients in the long run. They disrupt brain neurotransmitters and may usurp the brain’s organic soothing functions.
Until quite recently there used to be a fairly clear demarcation between reactive sadness and major depression that is sustained and apparently without cause – a distinction going back as far as the ancient Greeks. In past years however this distinction has been confused and normal sadness that most people experience from time to time has been increasingly medicalized into a treatable disorder and actively marketed as such.
Here Gordon Parker in the British Medical Journal, discusses this increasing medicalization of sadness.
Also on the over-diagnosis of depression from the Guardian
Andrew Weil’s Integrative approach to improving Mood
See Andrew Weil’s (who has experienced bouts of depression life-long) book Spontaneous Happiness on the wholistic approach to emotional wellbeing. Weil also recommends acupuncture, exercise and meditation for this mood condition.
Exercise Improves Depression
The following study demonstrated exercise to be equal to Zoloft in improving depression in older adults at 4 months of intervention.
Thomas Martin LAc
A study was reported in the Journal of Neuroscience, 6 April 2011, 31(14): 5540-5548; titled – Brain Mechanisms Supporting the Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation by. Fadel Zeidan, Katherine T. Martucci, Robert A. Kraft, Nakia S. Gordon, John G. McHaffie, and Robert C. Coghill.
It showed that with little more than an hour total of mindfulness meditation training, participants were able to significantly reduce pain ratings compared to a control group involving only rest. In the study pain was induced using a heating device placed on participants right leg.
The unpleasantness of pain was reduced by 57% and the pain intensity ratings reduced by 40%. As one researcher pointed out even morphine and other pain killers reduce pain ratings by about 25% only.
A special type of real-time MRI brain scan called an arterial spin labeling MRI which images longer duration brain processes was used. This showed activity in brain areas of study participants associated with reduction of pain intensity, the anterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula. Another area associated with reduction of pain unpleasantness, the orbitofrontal cortex was also stimulated by meditation. Also thalamus deactivation occurred which seems to be involved in assisting in conscious regulation of an area involved in emotional experience, the limbic system.
Meditation was seen in this study to assist in mental regulation of pain processing and in reframing the mental evaluation of painful sensory input to the brain.
“Together, these data indicate that meditation engages multiple brain mechanisms that alter the construction of the subjectively available pain experience..” researchers stated.
This provides a valuable glimpse of the potential for learning conscious desensitization of both physical and emotional pain which involves similar brain pattern activation. The study however didn’t involve sustained acute pain and chronic pain of months or more in duration. Chronic pain probably features deep conditioning both neural, emotional and environmental as well. A long-term intensive intervention would be needed to study meditations effect on chronic pain.
A study of participants with chronic pain in a 10 week mindfulness meditation course called The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain by Kabat-Zinn, Lipworth and Burney was reported in the JOURNAL OF BEHAVIORAL MEDICINE Volume 8, Number 2, 163-190.
Interestingly the study showed reductions in several symptoms associated with chronic pain and illness. The meditation practice taught, reduced anxiety, depression, mood disturbance, negative body image as well as present moment pain. Also normal activities were less likely to be reduced by pain and need for pain medication dropped.
At 15 month followup after the 10 week course finished all improvements continued except for present moment pain. Most participants voluntarily continued with their meditation practice.
An interesting point is that although chronic pain continued it was less debilitating, less likely to affect over-all wellbeing. The meditators were able to reduce the “suffering” quality of pain and the tendency for pain to infiltrate the rest of their lives.
As with self-reliant forms of health intervention meditation does require conscientiousness and perhaps a change of meaning on behalf of the patient. The good news is there seems to be a sea change in attitudes toward such inward arts, with science increasingly adding evidence in support of positive mind-body effects.
Thomas Martin LAC
Meditation at its core is the art and science of discovering the completeness inherent in the emptiness of self. This comes, at least temporarily while in a meditative state of mind, as a great relief. Because the struggle involved in living out our personal story, day and night, is really our main source of stress, a key factor in psychological aging and physical breakdown.
To dip into the meditative state on a daily basis is a wonderful regenerating practice which helps us see the simplest source of joy within, lets the body settle into its most natural state and invites a lifelong process of discovery.
The following study reported by Medical News Today used real time brain imaging of experienced meditators showing reduction, while meditating, of the default mode network, a pattern shown in brain imaging linked to self-centered thinking. The pattern along with lapses in attention, day dreaming, some emotional states were able to be moderated by the meditators.
A recent study showed that these skills could be learned fairly quickly by novice meditators. To be noted is that meditation is a universal skill independent of culture, religion or belief system. Nor does it mean withdrawal from the world but naturally fosters increased openness and less self-oriented living.
Thomas Martin LAC
How Meditation Benefits The Brain 23 Nov 2011
A new brain imaging study led by researchers at Yale University shows how people who regularly practise meditation are able to switch off areas of the brain linked to daydreaming, anxiety, schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders. The brains of experienced meditators appear to show less activity in an area known as the “default mode network”, which is linked to largely self-centred thinking.
The researchers suggest through monitoring and suppressing or “tuning out” the “me” thoughts, meditators develop a new default mode, which is more present-centred.A report of their findings is due to be published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.Meditation can help deal with a variety of health problems, from quitting smoking, to coping with cancer, and even preventing psoriasis, one of the researchers said in a statement.
For this study, they wanted to look further into the neurological mechanisms that might be involved.Lead author Judson A. Brewer, assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale, and colleagues, used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans to observe the brains of both novice and experienced meditators as they practised three different forms of meditation.
They found that the experienced meditators, regardless of the type of meditation they practised, seemed able to switch off the default mode network, which has been linked to lapses of attention, and disorders such as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anxiety. This part of the brain, comprising the medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortex, has also been linked to the accumulation of beta amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s disease.
They also found that when the default mode network was active in the experienced meditators, other parts of the brain, associated with self-monitoring and cognitive control, were active at the same time. This was not the case with the novices.This could be the result of meditators constantly monitoring mind-wandering and the emergence of “me” thoughts, and suppressing them. These are the kind of thoughts, when in extreme or pathological form, are associated with diseases such as autism and schizophrenia.
The fMRI scans showed the experienced meditators’ brain activity was the same both during meditation and when they were just resting, or when they were not being told to do anything in particular.Thus the researchers concluded that perhaps experienced meditators have developed a new default mode, which is centred more on the present than on the self. Meditation has been a central part of philosophical and contemplative practices for thousands of years: it helps the practitioner to be mindful of the present moment, Brewer told the press, and studies have shown it is also linked to increased levels of happiness.”Conversely, the hallmarks of many forms of mental illness is a preoccupation with one’s own thoughts, a condition meditation seems to affect,” he added.This study appears to have uncovered some clues as to the neural mechanisms that underpin this process. Understanding more about them will hopefully help us investigate a host of diseases, said Brewer.Written by Catharine Paddock PhD Copyright: Medical News Today